Ice Age Figurine’s Head Found

18 July 2013 Universitaet Tübingen


Tübingen archaeologists put new and old finds together to reassemble ancient work of art


Researchers from the University of Tübingen have successfully re-attached the newly discovered head of a prehistoric mammoth-ivory figurine discovered in 1931. The head was found during renewed excavations at Vogelherd Cave, site of the original dig in 1931. The recent excavations, between 2005 and 2012, have yielded a number of important finds. The discovery of this ivory head helps to complete a figurine which now can be recognized as a lion – and demonstrates that it is possible to reassemble often fragmentary figurines from the earlier excavation. The new discovery is presented in the 2013 edition of the journal “Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg”.


Vogelherd Cave is located in the Lone Valley of southwestern Germany and is by far the richest of the four caves in the region that have produced examples of the earliest figurative art, dating as far back as 40,000 years ago. Overall, Vogelherd Cave has yielded more than two dozen figurines and fragments of figurines. While the work of fitting together thousands of small fragments of mammoth ivory from Vogelherd is just beginning, the remarkable lion figurine, now with its head, forms an important part of the display of the earliest art at the Museum of the University of Tübingen (MUT) in Hohentübingen Castle.


Professor Nicholas Conard and his excavation assistant Mohsen Zeidi today presented the new discovery and discussed its scientific importance, after which the find rejoined the permanent exhibit at MUT. Prof. Ernst Seidl of MUT commented on the importance of the Vogelherd discoveries for the University and the region.



On the Trail of Prehistoric Humans

17 July 2013 — 17 July 2013 University of Cologne - Universität zu Köln


Location: Cologne, Germany

Venue: Neues Seminargebäude, Tagungsraum on the Ground Floor, Albertus-Magnus-Platz

On the Trail of Pre-Historic Man Press Conference on “Tracking in Caves” Project to be held by the Academics and Namibian San Trackers


The “Tracking in Caves” team, which comprises both academics and trackers, will be reporting at a press conference on their discoveries in the Ice Age caves of Ariège in the South of France. The expedition first went to Namibia over a month ago to prepare for the project with three San trackers. Since the beginning of the month, the experienced trackers Tsamkxao Cigae, C/wi /Kunta and C/wi G/aqo De!u have been unravelling the mysteries of the history of the hand and footprints on the cave floors. Now the academics and trackers will be presenting their findings at a press conference. The University of Cologne and the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann cordially invite all interested parties to the press conference at 11 am on the 17th of Jul, 2013. The Khoisan language of the trackers will be translated into English by Tsamkxao Cigae.


Dr. Tilman Lenssen-Erz from the Forschungsstelle Afrika of the University of Cologne and Dr. Andreas Pastoors from Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann are in charge of the project. The academics are cave and rock art experts. Tsamkxao Cigae works as a tracker in the Tsumkwe Country Lodge, lives in Tsumkwe; speaks good English and will act as interpreter. C/wi /Kunta works as a tracker for a professional hunter, lives in //xa/oba, a village 20 km north of Tsumkwe, which is also a “Living Hunters Museum” where the San people’s contemporary and traditional living modes are exhibited. C/wi G/aqo De!u works as a tracker for hunting teams and lives in a village ca. 20 km south-south west of Tsumkwe.


The backdrop to the project is the good condition of some of the tracks. A series of caves in the Pyrenees contain foot and hand prints that are up to 17,000 years old. These remnants of our ancestors have not been examined in much detail yet. A team of archaeologists from the University of Cologne and the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann have put together a group of specialists to this end: San hunters from Namibia.


The hunters are excellent trackers who can read information from tracks that escape others. “The San people belong to the last ‘trained’ hunters and gatherers of southern Africa,” explains Tilman Lenssen-Erz. “The tracks in the caves are being examined by people who really know something about them.” The academics are comparing thereby the methods of the trackers to scientific empiricism. “It is an early from of academic work. A hypothesis is worked out and the facts are examined. There is therefore a scientific process involved.” 


This area of research has been a little neglected. Scholars of pre-history have recorded the location and size of the tracks. However, Andreas Pastoors would like more than this: “We hope to gain additional information: e.g. whether the person was in a rush, or maybe ill or carrying something.  More information that will give life to the tracks.” The idea behind this is to gain a better understanding of the cultural life of prehistoric man: “Our biggest job is to interpret cave art and to find out what the people did with these cave paintings. We have to gather all information about the context of these images.”



Primitive human society 'not driven by war'

18 July 2013 Last updated at 20:40


Some have said war is an innate part of human behaviour - but this research suggests otherwise


Primitive society was not driven by war, scientists believe.


Researchers from Abo Academy University in Finland say that violence in early human communities was driven by personal conflicts rather than large-scale battles.


They say their findings suggest that war is not an innate part of human nature, but rather a behaviour that we have adopted more recently.


The study is published in the journal Science.


Patrik Soderberg, an author of the study, said: "This research questions the idea that war was ever-present in our ancestral past. It paints another picture where the quarrels and aggression were primarily about interpersonal motives instead of groups fighting against each other."


Motives for murder


The research team based their findings on isolated tribes from around the world that had been studied over the last century.


Cut off from modern life and surviving off wild plants and animals, these groups live like the hunter gatherers of thousands of years ago.


"They are the kind of societies that don't really rely on agriculture or domestic animals - they are primitive societies," explained Mr Soderberg.


"About 12,000 years ago, we assume all humans were living in this kind of society, and that these kind of societies made up about for about 90% of our evolutionary path."


Using the modern tribes as an analogy for earlier society, the researchers looked at cases where violent deaths had been documented.


They found 148 such deaths but very few were caused by war.


"Most of these incidents of lethal aggression were what we call homicides, a few were feuds and only the minority could be labelled as war," Mr Soderberg said.


Hunter gatherer

The scientists looked at modern hunter gatherer societies to trace the history of war

"Over half the events were perpetrated by lone individuals and in 85% of the cases, the victims were members of the same society."


Most of the killings were driven by personal motives, he added, such as family feuds or adultery.


The researchers admitted that modern communities were not a perfect model for ancient societies, but said the similarities were significant and did provide an insight into our past.


Mr Soderberg said: "It questions the idea that human nature, by default, is developed in the presence of making war and that war is a driving force in human evolution."


Instead, he thinks that war may have developed later.


As the hunter gatherers made the transition to farming, groups became more territorial and with a more complex social structure.


"As humans settled down, then war becomes more dominant and present. For these primitive societies, war has not yet entered the picture," he added.



Neanderthals Talked -- Like Us

Neanderthals, like modern humans, likely communicated among themselves and with others using tonal languages.

JUL 11, 2013 11:00 AM ET // BY JENNIFER VIEGAS


New research, published in the journal Frontiers in Language Sciences, presents strong evidence -- genetic, fossil, archaeological and more -- that modern speech and language existed among Neanderthals, Denisovans (a Paleolithic type of human), and early members of our own species.


“Modern humans and Neanderthals and Denisovans are very similar genetically, and there are indications of interbreeding as well, strengthening this similarity,” lead author Dan Dediu told Discovery News, explaining that a gene involved in language and speech, FOXP2, is present in all three groups.


Did Neanderthals go extinct because they were hunted and eaten by early humans? It's a grizzly, but possible explanation for their demise.


Neanderthal genes also suggest that the stocky, yet brainy, individuals possessed tonal languages, since there is an association between tone and two of their genes involved in brain growth and development.


Dediu is a senior investigator in the Language and Genetics Department and is group leader of Genetic Biases in Speech and Language at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.


In addition to outlining the DNA evidence, Dediu and colleague Stephen Levinson also explain that Neanderthals possessed a human-like hyoid bone, which is involved in speech production. Neanderthal ear bones further appear to have evolved for hearing speech in addition to other sounds, just as ours have.


Symbolism ties to language, since sounds and words represent specific concepts, and it appears that Neanderthals were big on both symbolism and culture.


“Recent discoveries and reinterpretation of the Neanderthal archaeological record support its capacity for symbolic culture (including their) complex toolkit, complex social life and its capacity to persist in the harsh and fluctuating western Eurasian climate of the time,” Dediu said.


The researchers believe modern speech and language first emerged in Homo heidelbergensis, an extinct species of the genus Homo that lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia from at least 600,000 years ago and possibly much earlier than that. This species might have been the common ancestor of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.


Dediu and Levinson's work counters the theory that a single, or very few, genetic change(s) resulted in the acquisition of the capacity for language. Instead, the scientists hold that genes associated with language and culture co-evolved.


"The basic idea," Dediu explained, "is that cultural change is not simply an effect of a better genetic background; culture does not have to wait for biology change, but culture generates new selective pressures to which our biology must adapt, changes in biology that might allow new cultural changes in a co-evolutionary cycle."


The evolution of lactose tolerance and changes to our immune and digestive systems due to farming are all examples.


As for when an individual of any species first communicated in a complex way via sound, it’s possible the sound was a whistle, Mark Sicoli, an assistant professor in Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics, told Discovery News. Sicoli studies whistled speech still used in parts of Oaxaca, Mexico.


"Hypothetically, whistled speech could be as old as the earliest languages," Sicoli said, adding that it could even have been a component of proto-language, the precursor of human language used by the earlier hominid species.


Since Neanderthals and some humans out of Africa interbred and otherwise spent time together, we could retain aspects of Neanderthal communication that persist to this very day.


"If our proposal is correct," Dediu concluded, "then we might not only carry some Neanderthal genes in our own genomes as traces of our past encounters, but also our languages might as well preserve some faint signature of their languages as well, but until rigorous testing is attempted, this must remain pure -- even if exciting -- speculation."



6,000-year-old decorative wood carving unearthed on Welsh mountainside

By Mark Smith

17 Jul 2013 12:41


The timber - with intricate pattern on one side and oval motif at one end - is thought to be a marker post for a tribal boundary, hunting ground or sacred site


Archaeologists have unearthed what is believed to be one of Europe's oldest decorative wood carvings - dating back more than 6,000 - on a Valleys hillside.


The decorative carving was exposed by workmen during the construction of Maerdy Wind Farm in the Rhondda Valley.


Richard Scott Jones, an archaeologist from Heritage Recording Services Wales, said the piece of wood was “priceless” and would be unveiled to the public at the National History Museum in St Fagans next year.


He said the wood is likely to date back 6,270 years to the Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic period.


“In archaeological circles, this is the is equivalent to winning the lottery,” he said.


“Finding a piece of decorative art like this is incredibly rare in this area of Wales, especially on uplands.


“And in terms of timber, this is truly unique.


“It gives us an idea of the sophistication in terms of artwork around at that time.”


Around 12 lengths of timber were discovered by workmen in waterlogged peat deposits during construction of a substation for the wind farm last September.


One of the pieces, which was elaborately carved, was then removed off-site and cleaned for inspection.


The timber, which measures around 1.7m long, has an intricate pattern along one side and an oval motif at one end.


It is believed to have been used as a tribal marker post indicating a tribal boundary, a hunting ground or a sacred site.


As soon as the significance of the timber was discovered, it was sent to Newport Ship Centre for temporary preservation in a water holding tank and 3D laser scanning.


Experts from the University of Wales Trinity St David, the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust and a number of paleo-entomologists also examined the find.


Further excavation was carried out at the wind farm site in the hope of discovering other artefacts - but none were found.


Alan Baker of 2020 Renewables said: “This is a tremendous discovery of real historical significance.


“We had a normal written scheme of archaeological investigation with Rhondda Cynon Taf council as part of the planning conditions for the wind farm.


“This meant putting protective fencing around a number of sites of cultural heritage before starting ground work and while stripping topsoil.


“Also, as part of that agreement we were responsible for the costs associated with the investigation and assessment of the find.


“It’s very exciting that this discovery has proved to be of such international significance and fully justifies our company policy of protecting sites of historic interest.”


The wood is now undergoing a conservation program of wax-glycol treatment at the York Archaeological Trust in York, where it is expected to stay until 2014.


Once this conservation work is completed, it  is hoped that it will be transferred to Cardiff and go on display at the National History Museum.



When Lettuce Was a Sacred Sex Symbol

July 16, 2013


Lettuce has been harvested for millennia—it was depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of tombs dating back to at least 2,700 B.C. The earliest version of the greens resembled two modern lettuces: romaine, from the French word “romaine” (from Rome), and cos lettuce, believed to have been found on the island of Kos, located along the coast of modern day Turkey. 


But in Ancient Egypt around 2,000 B.C., lettuce was not a popular appetizer, it was an aphrodisiac, a phallic symbol that represented the celebrated food of the Egyptian god of fertility, Min. (It is unclear whether the lettuce’s development in Egypt predates its appearance on the island of Kos.) The god, often pictured with an erect penis in wall paintings and reliefs was also known as the “great of love” as he is called in a text from Edfu Temple. The plant was believed to help the god “perform the sexual act untiringly.”


Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo who specializes in Ancient Egyptian food explains Min’s part in lettuce history. “Over 3,000 years, [Min's] role did change, but he was constantly associated with lettuce,” she says.


The first of these depictions appeared around 1970-80 B.C. in the The White Chapel of Senusret I, though there may be earlier examples, Ikram says.


This relief, from the funerary temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, for example, depicts Min’s harvest festival. At the centre is a statue of Min. Behind him, a procession of priests holds a small garden of lettuce. Min is also sometimes depicted wearing a long, red ribbon around his forehead that some say represents sexual energy.


“One of the reasons why [the Egyptians] associated the lettuce with Min was because it grows straight and tall—an obvious phallic symbol,” Ikram says. “But if you broke off a leaf it oozed a sort of white-ish, milky substance—basically it looked like semen.”


When the butt of modern Romaine lettuce is cut off, a similar substance oozes from the plant and gives it a bitter flavour. Lettuce’s scientific classification lactuca sativa, is derived from the Latin word for milk and shares the same root as lactose, the sugar enzyme found in dairy products. (Ed. — corrected thanks to feedback from reader joelfinkle) (While we’re talking etymology, raw lettuce dishes known as herba salata (“salted greens”) gave rise to the English word “salad.”) Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book provides further options for what the lettuce milk of the “ithyphallic god of increase” may represent:


Lettuce was sacred to him because of the “straight vertical surge” of their growth, milky juice they exude which could be taken as a symbol of mothers milk or semen.


Ancient Egyptians used the lettuce differently than those who would come later. The leaves had a greenish blue colour and were often removed from the plant due to their bitter taste. Instead of being part of a meal, the seeds from the bud of the flowers were harvested and pressed for their natural oils which were used for cooking, medication—even mummification. Lettuce oil was a standard in the Egyptian materia medica and even today is used as a traditional remedy for hair regrowth.


The Greeks and Romans later popularized the leafy veggie as an appetizer during the 81-96 A.D. reign of Domitian. When they first introduced a set order of courses, the meal included a salad at the beginning to stimulate the appetite and also at the end to encourage digestion, according to author Gil Marks. It was still considered a medicinal goldmine by the Greeks and Romans, but for a different reason than the Egyptians—they believed it helped people sleep. Under Domitian’s reign, as the story goes, the ruler would force his guests to eat lettuce before the meal so as to make them struggle to remain awake for the remainder of the visit.


Another interesting lettuce-related story in Ancient Egypt, not for the faint-of-stomach: In Egyptian history there are many battles between the Egyptian deity Horus and Set, the god of the desert. Though the argument was usually over which of the two had the rightful claim to rule Egypt, one rather odd battle involves lettuce. According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, as interpreted by Ikram, Set at one point tries to overpower Horus by seducing him and then having intercourse with him. Horus places his hand between his legs, catches Set’s semen and throws it into the river. “Horus [then] tricks Set by basically spurting his sperm and throwing it into a lettuce plant, ” Ikram says. Because Set eats the semen-covered lettuce, in the eyes of the gods, Horus was dominant—at least until the next battle.


Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2013/07/when-lettuce-was-a-sacred-sex-symbol/#ixzz2ZgnnfoIN

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Mummy Teeth Tell of Ancient Egypt's Drought

By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer   |   July 16, 2013 09:12am ET


The link between drought and the rise and fall of Egypt's ancient cultures, including the pyramid builders, has long fascinated scientists and historians. Now, they're looking into an unexpected source to find connections: mummy teeth.


A chemical analysis of teeth enamel from Egyptian mummies reveals the Nile Valley grew increasingly arid from 5,500 to 1,500 B.C., the period including the growth and flourishing of ancient Egyptian civilization.


"Egyptian civilization was remarkable in its long-term stability despite a strong environmental pressure — increasing aridity — that most likely put constraints on the development of resources linked to agriculture and cattle breeding," said senior study author Christophe Lecuyer, a geochemist at the University of Lyon in France.


Many studies have linked dramatic droughts to crises near the end of the Old Kingdom (the Age of the Pyramids) in the third millennium B.C. But Lecuyer and his colleagues also found a jump in aridity before the downfall of Egypt in the 6th century B.C. during the Late Period, when it was conquered by Alexander the Great.


However, the new study can't resolve the occasional drops in annual Nile River floods or short-term droughts that often caused widespread famine and upsets in Egyptian history.


"Our database cannot identify short-term events, only long-term trends, and there is [only] one obvious major event of increasing aridity that took place before the Late Period," Lecuyer said.


The climate data comes from the teeth of Egyptian mummies from various dynasties at the Musée des Confluences de Lyon in France. Led by graduate student Alexandra Touzeau,the researchers drilled small amounts of enamel off some of the teeth and tested it for oxygen and strontium isotopes.


The mummy's teeth record the ratio of two oxygen isotopes (oxygen atoms with different numbers of neutrons) in their diet and their drinking water, which in this case is Nile River water, Lecuyer said. Shifts in the ratio of the isotopes indicate changing precipitation patterns in the region.


The isotopes can also indicate what people were eating, and the research team plans to publish additional studies of Egyptian diets through time, Lecuyer said. "The general drying trend had no negative impact on the Egyptian civilization in terms of cereal production or population," he said. "One of the studies we plan to publish soon reveals there was no diet change over this long period of about four millennia."


The Nile Valley wasn't the only part of North Africa to experience drying after 5,500 B.C. The Sahara Desert was once covered in lakes and grasslands, but switched to a drier regime between about 7,000 to 5,000 years ago, studies have shown.


The mummy teeth findings were published June 2 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.


- See more at: http://www.livescience.com/38153-egyptian-mummy-teeth-nile-climate.html#sthash.K5yuQtVC.dpuf



Shipwreck divers discover last secret of Nelson's Colossus gunship

Monday, July 15, 2013


Two faint blips on a sonar screen have led a pair of modern day shipwreck hunters to the final piece of a 200-year-old puzzle.

HMS Colossus, one of Admiral Lord Nelson's warships, sank in waters around the Scilly Isles while sheltering from severe storms on her return from a keynote battle.

Parts of the massive ship carrying treasures belonging to the husband of Nelson's mistress, the notorious Lady Hamilton, have already been scooped up and preserved.

However, Colossus' giant anchor has never been found – until now.


Todd Stevens and Robin Burrows had decided to take a fresh look at the evidence surrounding where exactly the gunship had floundered.

They examined tide times and accounts of the wind as the raging storm which forced her to seek safety in the waters of Scilly ebbed and grew again, realising that previous searches must have been in the wrong place.

After scouring the seabed, they came across a couple of anomalies on a sonar scan which could have easily have dismissed as seabed rubble, so Mr Stevens decided to dive down and take a closer look.

"It was amazing," he said.

"I went down and I could see two tips sticking about two feet out of the sand.

"I started digging around them and I just knew straight away what it was.

"I came up and went back up the ladder and said to Robin, 'You'd better get your camera out.'

"I said, 'It's an anchor, but not just any old anchor. I think it's what we have been looking for'."

Mr Burrows, said it was a truly exciting find.

"You run your hand along this anchor and it's huge, 20 feet or so.

"Then you think that the last time this was dry was back in 1798. It's a really amazing thought."

Mr Stevens, who lives on St Mary's and is a prolific chronicler of wrecks, is already responsible for locating numerous other remains, including a ship suspected to have belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh.

But the Colossus holds a special place in his heart as back in 2001 with his wife Carmen he uncovered the spectacular carved wooden figure of a neo-classical warrior which had adorned the stern of the ship.

"The Colossus has been a big part of my life.

"Everything else from the ship has been found, the guns and the wreck and how it is spread out, but the only thing that was missing was the anchor.

"It was the final piece of the jigsaw and to find it is quite exciting."

The Colossus, a 74-gun ship launched in 1787, wrecked off Samson, one of the Isles of Scilly, as she was returning from serving with Nelson's fleet at the Battle of the Nile against Napoleon's fleet.

More than 200 sailors were on board, but thanks to careful steering by her captain all were able to escape and the only fatality was a man sent back to check the depth of the water.

She was also carrying a hoard of valuable Etruscan pottery belonging to Sir William Hamilton, husband of Lady Emma, the famous beauty and mistress of Nelson.

More than 30,000 pieces were recovered from the wreck, most of which are at the British Museum for safe keeping.

But Mr Stevens said his pleasure came from locating the wreck and tracing its history, rather than discovering treasure.

"I know it's not like we have found gold bars and that some people won't be interested.

"But to us it is of huge interest and it is a marvellous piece of history."


Read more: http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Shipwreck-divers-discover-secret-Nelson-s/story-19520280-detail/story.html#ixzz2ZhOJ8hqm

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Divers to hunt for shipwrecks including Sir Walter Raleigh's Flying Joan

English Heritage commissions search of oldest sites, to begin in Isles of Scilly where adventurer's ship sank in 1617

Maev Kennedy

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 July 2013 13.30 BST


Divers are launching a hunt for historic shipwrecks including one of Sir Walter Raleigh's ships lost in 1617 off the Isles of Scilly and a paddle steamer sunk off the Northumberland coast in 1838 whose survivors were rescued by Grace Darling and her lighthouse-keeper father.


Of myriad shipwrecks off the British coast dating back to prehistoric times, only a handful of sites known to archaeologists date from before 1840 – just 4% of the 37,000 known and dated sites recorded. English Heritage has commissioned divers from Wessex Archaeology to conduct a survey of some of the oldest sites, and recommend which are of national importance and should be protected by listing. Currently just 47 wreck sites have such protection.


The sites potentially of interest were identified in a survey last year. The underwater search will begin in Scilly, where sunken rocks and fierce currents have spelled doom for generations of sailors.


Last month, a piece of timber was recovered which may be from Raleigh's ship Flying Joan, one of two lost when a storm scattered his fleet almost before his treasure-hunting voyage to the West Indies began, soon after he put out from Plymouth. It was one of his last adventures before he definitively fell out of favour, and was executed the following year in the Tower of London where he had already been imprisoned on several occasions.


In August, the archaeologists will be diving at the site where in September 1838 the paddle steamer Forfarshire went down after her steam engines failed, and then lost sails and rigging in a storm, the disaster that made Darling famous. At first light passengers clinging to the deck, including a woman holding her dead children, were spotted by Darling, who rowed with her father more than half a mile through heavy seas to rescue them. Although 42 people including the captain and his wife drowned, the Darlings rescued nine people and were decorated for bravery, including the first medal presented by the RNLI, the lifeboat institute.


Other sites to be investigated include a possible Tudor wreck near Morecambe Bay, and various 19th-century craft including steam tugs and barges lost in ports and estuaries.


Climate change, development and changes in shipping patterns are endangering many wreck sites, exposing remains protected for centuries by being buried in silt on the sea bed.


Mark Dunkley, maritime designation adviser for English Heritage, said: "Watercraft tell a fascinating story of England's military, industrial and social history, but very little is known about those that existed before 1840. That's why we are taking the initiative to investigate pre-1840 ships and boats, from wooden sailing vessels to the very start of iron-hulled steam ships.


"This is part of a wider programme to ensure that current or future threats to the most important early wrecks are reduced through designation. We want to help ensure that future generations can understand and value these important sites."